By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch
He brought us (Tony) Kornheiser and (Michael) Wilbon before they were Pardoning any Interruptions. He also is tied in with one of the all-time legends of the business in Shirley Povich. He edited sports at the paper that birthed “All the President’s Men” and he demanded his own “toy department” staffers to act (and perform) like their news-side counterparts.
We’re not going to get soft and weepy and suggest that George Solomon is the last of a dying breed, but it would be well within our right to do so.
And why, you are surely inquiring, would any of this be relevant in these quarters on this day?
Because, on Thursday night, through the kindness (or lunacy) and invitation of Boston University’s Frank Shorr, Shots was able to share guest speaker space with Solomon, ESPN’s Ombudsman, at a BU College of Communication undergraduate class.
Like the dozen or so students in attendance, I was much more interested in what Solomon had to say and the 90-minute session was – at least to these sentimental eyes – a fascinating lesson of how very quickly everything in our sports media world is evolving. Or, as I suspect Solomon would believe: de-volving.
Solomon stands by this week’s item on “Whitlock’s Departure” and, on Thursday night, went as far as to call Whitlock’s comments, “. . . a scurrilous, personal, slanderous attack of Mike Lupica and Scoop Jackson. It’s indefensible (what Whitlock said).”]
Now in his final tri-mester of an 18-month appointment as ESPN’s first-ever Ombudsman (and, according to Solomon one of only two network television Ombudsmans – here’s the other) the ex-Washington Post Sports Editor has seemingly been introduced to a whole new culture at ESPN. Mostly, on the TV-side, it’s a culture that includes handsomely-paid men who wear make-up and don’t always take criticism very well.
“A lot of the stars make a lot of money (and) they’re very, very famous,” Solomon said. “They’re open to criticism and some try to get better and others are just so positively at a level, almost like rock stars, where they think: ‘What can I learn from someone like him who’s been a newspaper slug his whole career?’”
More aptly, it’s what those Rock Stars don’t want to learn that Solomon brings with him to ESPN.
For better or worse, the 60-something, ink-in-his-blood-newspaperman thinks Chris Berman and Stuart Scott should be held to the same journalistic standards that he demanded of his staffs at the Post (where he still has a weekly sports column). The fact that 90 percent (or more) of the viewers he represents are already comfortable with the Bermans, Scotts and Vitales being entertainment figures doesn’t phase Solomon. He takes his ombudsing as seriously as he takes his Edward R. Murrow Era journalistic ethics; which is to say, deathly seriously.
He commends ESPN for creating the ESPN Obmuds position: “They felt they needed a critical eye from within to represent its viewers and, also, people on its own staff.”
(Solomon, who lives in Virginia, said he holds “office hours” in Bristol about once every six weeks).
“ESPN deserves credit for that – they are not the only TV network in the United States that deserves criticism and a look from within,” he said. “But they felt they wanted to get better.”
ESPN, according to Solomon, has expressed a desire to continue the Ombuds slot beyond Solomon’s 18-month stint. “I would be willing to stay on, on a month-to-month basis, until they fill it (after December),” said Solomon, as a way of emphasizing how important he believes the position is.
Of course no small portion of that belief is rooted in Solomon’s Post past. His paper was one of the nation’s first to employ an Ombudsman ( although our research indicates it was not THE first, as Solomon suggested on Thursday) and as ESPN’s charter “reader representative,” he takes his job very seriously – the very same way he told the BU students why they should want to pursue a career in journalism: “Do it because you have ideals and to serve your public.”
. . .If you’re wondering what earthly right Shots had sharing “dais” space with Solomon, we assure you that we’re wondering the same thing. Shorr’s explanation was that the night’s class topic was “Media Watchdogs.” And truth be told, it was probably a pretty revealing dichotomy of a New Media wannabe like Shots and an Old Media luminary like Solomon. I found myself, at various times, wondering what I was offering to the class and if I’d be better off sitting alongside the students.
Shorr’s been kind enough to have me in on prior occasions, but this encounter was surely the highlight. For some reason, characters with deep newspaper histories like Solomon always enthrall me.
. . . Solomon was accompanied by his lovely wife, Hazel, who attested (during the Q&A portion) to the hours and dedication that Solomon has poured into his Ombuds role.
However, we were somewhat surprised to hear Solomon boast of getting about “1,000 emails a month.” That number seems awfully low, considering Shots has been told by some prominent Internet writers that, depending on the topic, they can generate 1,500 emails from a single column.
But, as Solomon jokingly explains, his position always raises some eyebrows from the “talent” he ‘ombudses’ on: “One, they can’t pronounce it, and two they don’t know what it is.” (Solomon later revealed that Jay Bilas was one talent that had no idea what or who the Ombudsman was – after Solomon had contacted Bilas about an inappropriate “Brokeback Mountain” joke he made on-air).
. . . We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention (and endorse the procurement of) the Solomon-edited “All Those Mornings. . . ” the sensational Shirley Povich collection.
. . .Solomon, in the midst of a discussion of Wendi Nix’s marriage to the Red Sox’ Ben Cherington (mentioned in his most recent Ombuds entry), did afford us the opportunity to also bring up Solomon’s son Aaron’s role as producer of ESPN’s “Around the Horn.”
. . . Solomon said the only editing that is ever done to his pieces is done by Jay Lovinger and is purely for grammatical purposes. He said no ESPN higher-up has ever told him he couldn’t write about something and you kind of sense Solomon wouldn’t listen, even if they did.
Remember, this is a guy who kept Kornheiser and his independent ways in line for a couple of decades.
. . . If you get the impression that we sort of liked Solomon, you’re correct. But we also think the next ESPN Ombudsman might need to be a bit more in-tune with the ways of the Internet and, truth be told, should be writing once-a-week and not the once-a-month that has been Solomon’s regular schedule.
That would, of course, require a full-time hire for the spot and we’re betting ESPN isn’t all that keen on throwing any serious money at a rabble-rouser who could cause 52 (or more) potential headaches a year.
Still, that’s what the volumes of material (from ALL ESPN platforms) demand.
. . . Solomon – who prides himself on constantly being in contact with those he criticizes and scrutinizes – related a funny story about Dick Vitale where, at the end of their conversation, Vitale said to Solomon, “You’re the greatest Ba-beeee.” Vitale also, as he always does, sent an autographed book to Solomon, thanking him for his hardwork. Solomon did not seem inclined to read the tome, but appreciated the gesture just the same.
. . .Thanks for some good background on Solomon which was provided by this CJR Daily Q&A from January of this year.
• Shots made the field trip to Celtics Media Day on Monday and came away with very little in terms of true, justifiable excitement. Even the re-appearance of Basketball Bob Ryan (he’s missed quite a few Celts’ Media Days in recent years because of the Red Sox October involvement), couldn’t raise Monday’s buzz meter at the Waltham training facility.
[Yes, that’s right. David Stern’s company ran league-wide media days on Yom Kippur. That must never happen again and it should be acknowledged how very wrong it was to do it in the first place. I’m guessing it’s why Shira Springer was absent (and, truth be told, if Shots had been a good boychik, he would have boycotted the event all together.)]
. . . Only Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce got “Table Seating” (with a full assortment of media-types surrounding the six-foot table) and the coach and player couldn’t have been more sharply contrasted.
Rivers looked every inquisitor in the eye, seemed earnest with each answer and actually managed to engage the frothing horde to various degrees. (For instance, he’s careful to drop in a friendly “Bob” in the course of each answer to Ryan.)
Pierce was basically going through root canal as he sat before the cameras, notepads and digital audio recorders. He was excited to get started. Looking forward to the season. Yawn, fidget, yawn.
It once again showed that Doc Rivers, is far and away, the city’s most media astute coach, and after Tom Brady and Big Papi, the most endearing and likable sports figure in town.
• We are. . . Marshall got a nice bump during Wednesday night’s Marshall-Central Florida contest on ESPN2. The movie doesn’t release until Christmas time and there’s already serious buzz, including the several info-mercial moments in Wednesday’s broadcast.
• It’s probably only shocking because we’re used to the Patriots Broadcast unit being associated with top notch and cutting edge productions, but the newly-situated Patriots Football Weekly on Tuesdays at NECN is off to a rocky start.
Now filming at the familiar NECN roundtable, and hosted by Chris Collins, the PFW staff sits awkwardly around the high-top table, while Collins stands, center screen. All that is actually forgivable.
But the set “design” is not. If anyone in the Kraft family was watching (let’s hope they weren’t), they would have been embarrassed at the awful blue, background drape, and the sad attempt at a football motif. The overall look and feel would barely pass for a bad, Division II college coach’s show.
Mike Ratte and the 56 crew had done a nice job with that show and now NECN appears to be de-valuing the product by taking a half-hearted approach. If the show wasn’t ready for prime time, it shouldn’t have been rolled out (they had an email gaffe as well) and if NECN and PFW (dba The Patriots) aren’t going to take the presentation seriously, they need to abandon the idea all together.
. . . That said, Paul Perillo steals the show (or the few minutes we could tolerate) – even upstaging Collins, the supposed host. Perillo has learned well from his radio work and his level-headedness is always refreshing.
• Not suitable audio for work, and really a waste of time to all but the Michigan State faithful – but an incredibly enjoyable listen.
My favorite lines: “What the hell are you doing in a shotgun in a monsoon?????? You’re asking Drew Stanton to run the option in Hurricane Katrina!!!!!!!!”
• Here were two especially well-expressed reactions to the Trupiano trash from last week:
“It is unfortunate if the Red Sox do not show the class they should toward a 14 year employee. However this guy became a sideshow during games this year. The job of the radio announcer is to try and create a true vision of the game for the listener. Trupiano on a consistent basis overstated the simplest fly ball. He has great pipes and an innate knowledge of the game, but I for one will be ecstatic to see him go.” – ChuckoXXXX
“. . . Trupe was constantly beating the drum of games being too long. His “not going anywhere for a while” comment, I must have heard 20 times.
You know Trupe, that doesn’t sit well for a guy who is a plumber and busts his ass all day from 6 in the morning till whenever at night. . . (then) makes some small dinner for his family. . . sneaks downstairs and cracks a beer. . . flips on the old AM radio quiet like. . .and (then) hears some baritone that is broadcasting from an interesting city that said plumber has never been to.. and said tenor is bitching about a 4-hour game… and he WAS bitching.. don’t fool yourself…
The Wheel of Karma got him the night before the All-Star break when the Sox went 20-something innings. . .
Don’t spend all season bitching about the arms on the clock on the wall. . . and then ask the average fan for some sympathy so you can have more time on that clock. . . – Matt
David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. And can be reached at shotsATbostonsportsmedDOTcom
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